Daily Howler logo
SOMETHING BORROWED, NOTHING NEW! Doctor Goldberg borrowed a framework the Heathers all used the last time: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2009

Inside the Dean dome: As currently constructed, would the Senate health reform bill add to the federal deficit? We’ll guess that it probably would. But we marveled at David Broder’s attempt to discuss this question in Sunday’s Washington Post.

And yes, that is the specific question The Dean was trying to discuss. At the start of his column, he quoted a specific question in a new national poll:

BRODER (11/22/09): It read: "President Obama has pledged that health insurance reform will not add to our federal budget deficit over the next decade. Do you think that President Obama will be able to keep his promise or do you think that any health care plan that Congress passes and President Obama signs will add to the federal budget deficit?"

The answer: Less than one-fifth of the voters—19 percent of the sample—think he will keep his word. Nine of 10 Republicans and eight of 10 independents said that whatever passes will add to the torrent of red ink. By a margin of four to three, even Democrats agreed this is likely.

Will a health reform bill add to the federal deficit? In theory, that’s what Broder was judging. But soon, he quoted a pair of experts. Robert Bixby went first:

BRODER: While the CBO said that both the House-passed bill and the one Reid has drafted meet Obama's test by being budget-neutral, every expert I have talked to says that the public has it right. These bills, as they stand, are budget-busters.

Here, for example, is what Robert Bixby, the executive director of the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan group of budget watchdogs, told me: "The Senate bill is better than the House version, but there's not much reform in this bill. As of now, it's basically a big entitlement expansion, plus tax increases.”

You may think Bixby’s assessments are accurate—but they don’t specifically speak to the question of the federal deficit. (Duh. If those tax increases are big enough, they will offset the new spending.) But then, things only got worse when Broder quoted his second expert:

BRODER (continuing directly): Here's another expert, Maya MacGuineas, the president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget: “While this bill does a better job than the House version at reducing the deficit and controlling costs, it still doesn't do enough. Given the political system's aversion to tax increases and spending cuts, I worry about what the final bill will look like.”

MacGuineas seems to say that the bill would reduce the federal deficit—it just wouldn’t do so enough.

As Broder continued, he never quite straightened out the confusion. At one point, he once again seemed to (maybe) conflate the question of new spending in the bill with the question of additional deficits. To his credit, he fumbled around with some relevant points; well-versed readers may have thought they knew what he meant. But his work was murky from start right to finish. For us, this brought back memories.

We recalled the halcyon days when Broder mocked two typical targets for boring him with policy speeches—policy speeches filled with “swell ideas,” policy speeches which weren’t about “the state of [Hillary Clinton’s] marriage” (links below). The Dean was bored by those policy speeches. After reading his fumbling Sunday effort, we’ll only offer this suggestion: Maybe The Dean should have listened up better when serious people tried to show him how to analysze serious topics.

Our own opinion? When it comes to this fumbling Dean, a real newspaper would have put down its foot at least nine years ago.

Visit our incomparable archives: At the 2000 Democratic convention, Gore’s speech was so full of “swell ideas,” it almost put The Dean to sleep. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/22/06.

When Hillary Clinton spoke about energy issues, The Dean was bothered by her know-it-all tone—and by her failure to discuss “the state of her marriage.” See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/25/06.

Maureen Dowd had been bored by Clinton’s speech too. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/24/06—or just marvel at this:

DOWD (5/24/06): Al Gore must want to punch Hillary Clinton right through the hole in the ozone layer.

At the National Press Club here yesterday, the New York senator finally took a passionate stand. After giving a courteous nod to her old rival Al as “a committed visionary on global warming,” she purloined his issue and his revolution, going his Earth Tones in the Balance one better by wearing a blinding yellow pantsuit that looked as if it could provide solar power to all of Tennessee.

Yesterday, Broder tried to talk about policy! It was a column-long, twilight struggle.

Well-twinned Heathers: How inane are the Antoinettes? How widely established is their boredom-based culture? Below, you see Broder describing Gore’s boring speech—and Dowd describing Clinton’s:

BRODER (8/20/00): One more paragraph and he would have been onto the budget of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

[...]

On some of the headline proposals—for Medicare prescription drug benefits or a patient's bill of rights—Gore humanized his presentation by pointing to specially invited families in the audience who would have benefitted directly from the programs he is promoting. But I have to confess, my attention wandered as he went on through page after page of other swell ideas, and somewhere between hate crimes legislation and a crime victim's constitutional amendment, I almost nodded off.

DOWD (5/24/06): She droned on numbingly about carbon dioxide sequestration, biomass liquid fuel bases, ''feebate'' tax incentives, hybrid plug-ins, flex-fueled vehicles, continuous reheat furnaces, renewable portfolio standards, Danish wind power, Brazilian ethanol and Kyoto greenhouse targets. (And you thought she was incomprehensible on health care.)

She got so far down in the weeds—or switch grass—that she advised her listeners about weatherizing their homes and checking their tires to save fuel.

The Heathers always know what they like. And darlings! The Heathers don’t like it when pols “drone on” through pages of “swell ideas.”

Special report: We, Heathers!

PART 2—SOMETHING BORROWED, NOTHING NEW: Society’s Heathers have been out in force, critiquing Sarah Palin’s book (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/20/09). Just consider the New York Times’ twinned Heathers, the nincompoops Rich and Dowd.

In yesterday’s column, Dowd let you know, right from the jump, why you should look down on Palin. If you want to know how conservatives prosper, you don’t have to read the whole column:

DOWD (11/22/09): It’s easy to dismiss Sarah Palin.

She’s back on the trail, with the tumbling hair and tumbling thoughts. The queen of the scenic strip mall known as Wasilla now reigns over thrilled subjects thronging to a politically strategic swath of American strip malls.

The conservative celebrity clearly hasn’t boned up on anything, except her own endless odyssey of self-discovery. And she still has that Yoda-like syntax.

As usual, Dowd started with her target’s hair, then told you what the hair represents. (From 1997 through November 2000, she devoted six columns to Candidate Gore’s bald spot. Candidate Edwards was routinely “The Breck Girl.” With Giuliani, it was always the comb-over.) Sarah Palin is queen of the strip malls, this big dumb Heather instructed her readers. But Rich, if anything, started out dumber. Where do they find these people?

RICH (11/22/09): At last the American right and left have one issue they unequivocally agree on: You don’t actually have to read Sarah Palin’s book to have an opinion about it. Last Sunday, Liz Cheney praised “Going Rogue” as “well-written” on Fox News even though, by her own account, she had sampled only “parts” of it. On Tuesday, Ana Marie Cox, a correspondent for Air America, belittled the book in the Washington Post while confessing that she couldn’t claim to have “completely” read it.

Jesus God help us, that’s stupid. Cox is almost always fatuous; Rich provides a small public service by starting to mainstream this observation. (In the feather-weight province called liberal cable, Cox’s fatuity gets dished to young liberals as part of the Maddow program.) But to state what is blindingly obvious, you don’t have to read an entire book to be able to say if the book is well-written. And you don’t have to read a book “completely” before you critique its contents.

Predictably, Cox’s critique was inane. By way of contrast, we agree with most, not all, of what Cheney said. (“It's a good read. It's well written. She comes across, you know, as very likable, as somebody with a lot of common sense. When she does make criticism, I have to say she does it with a pretty deft touch, and the book is moving in some parts.”) We’d skip the claim about Palin’s wealth of common sense. Otherwise, we would agree with Cheney. Like it or not, the book is well written. (Cue choir of Heathers: But Palin didn’t write it!) And we’d have to say it’s much more interesting than most such political books.

Rich and Dowd put on a show, as they almost always do. But for our money, last week’s biggest Heather (we choose the gender-tinged term for a reason) was The Daily Beast’s Michelle Goldberg. In fairness, she didn’t discuss Palin’s hair. Instead, she found something dumber:

DAILY BEAST SYNOPSIS (11/18/09): Does Sarah Palin suffer from narcissistic personality disorder? Michelle Goldberg puts America’s hottest author on the couch.

Jesus God help us, that’s dumb! Goldberg isn’t a shrink, of course. She only plays one on TV (Thursday’s Larry King Live) and in print, just as the “jeering Heathers” did as the last decade was ending. Playing a shrink is never a real good idea for a journalist. But Goldberg made the move even dumber by citing the hapless Todd Purdum:

GOLDBERG (11/18/09): This summer, remember, Todd Purdham wrote in Vanity Fair that several Alaskans had told him, “independently of one another, that they had consulted the definition of ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—‘a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy’—and thought it fit her perfectly.” At the time, this struck me as a stretch, since all politicians are narcissistic and grandiose to one degree or another. But it turns out there’s a real connection between this disorder and Palin’s chronic dishonesty.

Purdum had been shocked—just shocked!—when Alaskans delivered this diagnosis. Independently of one another! But as we noted at the time, Purdum was either faking it in that piece, or he’s impossibly dumb. In web-era politics, it has long been completely conventional for partisans to aim this diagnosis at pols with whom they disagree; at that time, we found more links for “Obama AND narcissistic personality disorder” than for Palin AND same (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/6/09). Yet Purdum was shocked—just shocked!—when several Alaskans, “independently of each other,” told him they had come up with this diagnosis.

If Purdum was acting in good faith, he was dumb as a bag of old rocks. Citing his crapola four months later, Goldberg is even dumber.

Does Palin have this psychiatric dysfunction, or perhaps some other? It’s always possible, of course. But there’s no way of knowing about such things; when writers like Goldberg play the shrink this way, they’re letting you know that they are among the dumbest bunnies on earth. (Or that they think you are.) But Doctor Goldberg wasn’t content with this most common web-era diagnosis. As she started her pitiful piece, she journeyed back a full ten years, borrowing the groaning framework the Heathers used the last time they played this game:

GOLDBERG: All politicians may lie, but not all politicians lie like Sarah Palin. Many people in public life lie to avoid getting caught when they do something wrong; call them “I did not have sex with that woman!” lies. Or they mislead about their own experiences and accomplishments, like Hillary Clinton and her untrue tales of dodging bullets in Bosnia.

Palin, however, lies when there’s little to be gained by lying, and she lies when everyone knows the truth. If Bill Clinton were a Palin-style liar, he’d still be insisting that his relationship with Monica Lewinsky was entirely chaste, or he’d claim that he never denied it in the first place. If Hillary Clinton lied like Palin, she’d put the Bosnia anecdote in her next memoir. Palin’s new book, Going Rogue, coupled with her recent media appearances, evinces a dishonesty that seems as much clinical as opportunistic. Maybe Palin really does suffer from narcissistic personality disorder.

It may be that Goldberg’s too dumb to remember. Perhaps she’s just playing her readers for fools. But that is precisely the framework the “jeering Heathers” used in 1999 and 2000, when they were determined to turn Candidate Gore into a clinical liar. In the early days, Doctor Bill Turque was constantly IN, working from his couch at Newsweek—although, in time, they took turns reciting the good doctor’s groaning framework. What follows is an early expression of same. It appeared in Newsweek, just as the “jeering Heathers” began working to establish the claim that Candidate Gore had lied about Love Canal:

TURQUE (12/13/99): Perhaps most disabling for Gore are episodes like the Love Canal stretch: small but easy-to-spot untruths. Together with past misstatements—like claiming to have created the Internet—they feed the notion that he's a phony. With the campaign press now on full embellishment alert, the slightest deviation from fact, no matter how innocuous, will stick like chewing gum to the heel of his shoe. What's mystifying is that, in each instance, the straight story is just as laudable. He didn't uncover Love Canal, but he did help lead the fight against toxic-waste dumping. Gore wasn't the father of the Internet, but he was arguably an uncle, sponsoring legislation that fostered its growth. Gore, who has devoted himself to loosening up in public, may discover that while voters will accept some stiffness in their candidates, grandiosity never sells.

Like Doctor Goldberg, Doctor Turque was constantly puzzled. Candidate Gore kept telling lies even when the truth was just as laudable. Then, as now, it was mystifying! Why would he do such a thing?

In fact, Gore’s “small but easy-to-spot untruth” wasn’t an untruth at all. But this passage may have been the first expression of a framework many Heathers would eventually pimp: Mystifyingly, Candidate Gore kept telling lies even when the truth was as good. As the weeks went by, Doctor Turque kept reciting this diagnosis. Before too long, the other children stood in line to recite it.

This is how the Heathers conspired to send George Bush to the White House. It should be disgusting to see a Heather bringing this silly old framework back—unless she has very strong evidence backing her assertions.

Is Sarah Palin psychiatrically disordered? It’s always possible, of course—but Doctor Goldberg has no way of knowing. Neither does the willing beard who played the fool in support of her theory. There’s always some professor or other who will back a clown like Goldberg in trade for a bit of reflected glory—perhaps for a few more book sales. In this case, it is the unfortunate “Charles V. Ford, the author of Lies! Lies! Lies! The Psychology of Deceit, and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine.”

But again, let’s get clear on the ethics:

If you’re going to write a piece with a groaning old framework accusing some pol of some psychiatric disorder, you probably ought to get your facts straight—the facts which led to your diagnosis. In this case, as ten years ago, The Doctor didn’t bother.

Tomorrow—Part 3: The Doctor’s embarrassing “facts.”

Wednesday—Part 4: “Jeering Heathers,” past and present.